Customers are using online review sites at an rapidly increasing rate. Traffic for the top review sites have continued to grow quickly over the last year (Aug 2010 to Aug 2011):
- Yelp.com (89% increase)
- Google Places (58% increase in three months!)
- Yahoo Local (58% increase)
- CitySearch (60% increase)
- DealerRater (86% increase)
Research from Cars.com in April of 2011 indicated that 73% of consumers consulted online dealership reviews and 91% of consumers said they would use reviews when deciding on a dealership.
As a result, small and large business alike cannot ignore the conversation that is already happening about them online. Learning to effectively manage the conversation and ones online business reputation, is rapidly becoming another cost of doing business in the digital age. Businesses can take basic steps to meet this challenge:
- Discover Reviews
- Request and Promote Reviews
- Manage Reviews
A. Discover Reviews
A quick Google search on ones business name may not uncover all the places a business is being reviewed, but it is a good place to start! Additional places to search should include:
- industry specific review sites (such as dealerrater.com for cars and healthgrades.com for physicians)
- industry blogs relevant to the business (such as theinkblog.net Great Tech Tools)
- social media alert sites (such as socialmention.com)
- other leading search engines (such as Yahoo.com and Bing.com)
- the leading ‘wide scope’ internet review sites (such as Yelp.com, Google Places Reviews, Yahoo Local, SuperPages, etc.)
B. Request and Promote Reviews
Invitations: Instead of waiting for random customers to talk about you on their preferred review site, invite them to help get your review presence moving. Linkedin recommendations are a good place for sole proprietors and consultants, but also consider pointing customers to the review sites that already have reviews posted about your business. Invite your facebook friends and customer email list to honestly comment on your services.
Surveys: Following any significant transaction or service, send your customers a followup survey asking for their opinion and feedback. Include links to the review sites you wish to promote.
Staff Participation: Ask your staff to solicit feedback and reviews from customers. Make customer feedback a regular employee expectation and review feedback in staff meetings. Financial or other incentives can help create a culture of hearing the customers ‘digital’ voice.
Display Reviews: Use customer reviews in web-based testimonial pages or strategically positioned quotes. Use reviews in both offline and online advertising and at multiple points in the sales and service process.
C. Manage Reviews
Monitor: Claiming your business page on the key review sites will allow you to receive notification of any reviews that are posted about your business. Enlisting the use of a listening tool such as Google Alerts (www.google.com/alerts) will also help notify you of conversations taking place about you and your business anywhere on the web.
Respond: Whether reviews are good, bad or neutral, responding to them in a timely manner will help improve your reputation and will also let your customers know that transparency is important to you. When reviews are negative always respond positively. Apologize and share information about what can be done to make things right. A good way to overcome a negative review is to encourage a large number of positive reviews.
Don’t Manipulate: Never create or solicit fake reviews! Review sites themselves are good at removing or hiding fake or fabricated reviews and your reputation will be significantly damaged if and when you are found out. Don’t offer direct incentives for positive customer reviews either. The best reviews should happen naturally as a result of the great service you are providing.
Managing an online business reputation is a cost of doing business, but it does not have to be unnecessarily costly! Following a few basic steps to discover how your business is being viewed and then managing the review process will keep your valuable reputation in tact.